I've officially been home from Santa Monica Summer Project 2011 for six days now, and it sort of feels like I just woke up from a two month long dream. I've been putting off blogging about the end of project (the entire second half actually) just because I was so spiritually, physically, and mentally exhausted. So, here's my best crack at the last four weeks of Project!
After staff left, the students continually grew closer every day. One of my biggest fears about the people on project, or just people I meet in general, is that they may be friendly but may not desire a genuine friendship with me. For this reason, I kept myself guarded, distant, and surface level with most of the other students. Relentlessly, God kept shoving in my face how much the people on project cared about me and loved me. I never knew that saying goodbye to 65 people would be so sad, or that I could count all of them as some of my best friends in life. I know that I may not ever experience again the feeling of waking up and having 65 people literally right outside my door, waiting to spend time with me all day and get to know me on deeper levels. The second half of project just seemed a million times more genuine to me, and it got so much better after I finally let myself be vulnerable. After this point, I spent the rest of Project learning so much, from how to approach strangers to how to show love to others to how to accept love to how to speak truth into others' lives to how to drive in LA traffic!
"..to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." Ephesians 4:12-16
The longer that Project went on, the more I started to dread my job at Tocaloma Day Camp. I started feeling like I was in Santa Monica to work at Tocaloma, and not to be on Summer Project. I felt like the long, daily hours and the exhaustion that ensued was preventing me from getting to know all of my Project mates better, or even causing me to not care about any of the activities that we did. However, even though I felt so much stress about my job, God kept popping up in different areas and reminding me that I was supposed to be there. Whether it was a bonus on my paycheck when I was expecting not enough to get by, a great evaluation when I was expecting a terrible one, my 6 year old girls unconditinally loving me when I expected them to be annoyed or bored by me, or even great camraderie and friendships when I was expecting to not fit in, God kept blessing me when I least deserved it, and when I least expected it.
"I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound." Philippians 4:12
My weariness began infecting every aspect of my project experience, including evangelism. Everytime we would start walking towards the promenade, I felt reluctant and lost. I never knew how to start out a conversation, no matter how many times we had been told. However, I had some of the craziest talks with people all summer. I hardly ever had a "mediocre" or short conversation; I always ended up talking to people for hours, and listening to them reveal their deepest struggles with brutal honesty. I talked to an elderly woman who was depressed and angry at God because her husband had passed away two years ago. I talked with a young German couple who grew up in the Catholic Church but now began discovering that they wanted to know God personally, and were exploring what that meant and if it was possible. I talked to an ex-CEO who was going through a divorce, depression, and a layoff, who admitted that "God was the only thing missing in his life." I ate McDonald's with a homeless man, who told me stories about the girl he used to love, the people who have hated him, and how he was living his life dealing with AIDS. . I talked to a wealthy Indian man who came to America to study for the Bar exam, and told me all about how much he loves his arranged marriage. I talked to a homosexual man who worked in a cosmetics store, who had experienced unconditional love and accpetance from his mother, and hate from his mother's church. All of these people's stories throughout the summer filled me with so much sadness and heartache, and although I could talk to them for hours, it was hard to get any of them to budge on their spiritual views of belief in God. I had to be reminded that I was not there to be these peoples' savior, and that I had only been sent to plant seeds. The changing of their hearts had to be and could only take place through God.
"'It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed that Savior of the world.' " John 4:42
Once, I went out with my friend Karly, and we saw people sitting in life for the midnight premiere of Harry Potter, so we decided to sit down and start shring with them. The girl we sat next to and started talking to turned out to be a new Christian. We only talked to her for about three minutes, and although we sensed the church she went to might be doctrinally different in some ways, she was on fire about evangelizing and talking to strangers. A man came and sat next to us, and she immediately dove right in, asking him how often he went to church. Although we were a little taken aback by her approach, it flung wide open a door to this man that we might have been to scared to knock on ourselves. Her friends started coming throughout the night, so she eventually left the conversation and our group, but Karly and I were glued to this man, Ali, for a solid four hours. He was from India, and was a Cambridge graduate in physics,mathematics and philosophy, now conducting research at UCLA. He hardly ever had a break or free time, so he absolutely loved talking to us. He even told us that we were so wise, and he had never had such a theological conversation with his highly educated peers. He went silent and his jaw dropped for a whole minute when he found out that we were only 19, and he was absolutely hysterical when we told him 3 hours later that we weren't even in line for Harry Potter; we just wanted to talk to him. We got to talk deeply about God and His nature, and Ali was so amazed by the loving and accepting God we talked about. He was in disbelief when we gave him the Knowing God Personally booklet, and although he said he didn't believe in some parts of it, he asked us deep questions at rapidfire pace on everything from dating to abortion to homosexuality to peace and hope. God gave us the words to say, and the peace to speak with a man with so much more prestige than us.
"Do not say 'I am only a youth'; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord." Jeremiah 1:7-8
"for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:7
God also knew exaclty when to put a stranger in my life to encourage me, instead of the other way around. I talked to a movie producer who encouraged my roommates and I to represent young, Christian females in the entertainment industry, specifically in front of the camera, which spoke to my roommate, Alexa. We also were approached on the same night by a young man studying business, so he could become a "tent-maker" in third world countries- entering the country with a degree as a businessman, but really be doing missionary work. I met a boy my age in the Navy who came to church with me one night, and spent the hour drive back to his ship hearing about his life and walk with the Lord and stories about meeting other strangers. On my last Wednesday night Date Night With Jesus, I told my friend that I didn't want to have any chance meetings with strangers while doing my devotional, that I was just too tired and didn't feel like talking to anyone, so I went to the 3rd floor of Barnes and Noble and sat on the floor of the furthest corner I could find. Within minutes, a woman walked past, did a double take, and gasped, "Are you reading the Bible?!" We proceeded to talk for an hour, as she quoted scripture for me to look up and encouraged me to read it daily, to prepare for persecution as a Christian.
On our final Sunday, we had our second major outreach- this time, without staff. The Evangelism team did an amazing job of planning such a bold endeavor, and getting us all pumped to participate. We each had white t-shirts, and wrote "I found.." and then a word representing what we found in our relationships with Christ. All 65 of us walked to the promenade, and then simultaneously frozze for two minutes, to attract attention. After this, we broke up into groups, with some people using Perspective Cards, posters advertising prayer, or posters with questions for people to answer, like my friends Muriel and I. I remember having the time of my life that day, yelling "Do you wanna write on our board?" at every single person that walked by, getting swallowed up by groups of people, and hearing everyone's answers. We kept freezing every hour, for five minutes, and each time attracted more attention. At this point, all of the passersby would swarm Muriel and I with the posters and ask us so many questions. The last freeze was the coolest, and it was amazing seeing how unified and fearless our group of 65 students looked. Nearly every single person walking by stopped, took pictures, pointed, looked at our posters, or asked us questions. It was at this point that I had an overwhelming feeling of "we are making an impact on this city... this city will be different because we have been here this summer." All of the time we had invested suddenly seemed to be visibly fruitful, and it was one of my favorite days of Project.
"Pray...also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth fearlessly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it fearlessly, as I ought to speak." Ephesians 6:19-20
Another thing I experienced the second half of Project was a deeper bond with all of the UofA students. Seven of us went, and we all spent the majority or Project making our own friends and experiencing different things. Our first few campus meetings were rocky to say the least, and an air of hostility involving so many different connections of people always hung over us. It was getting pretty discouraging, especially for me and some of my friendships. However, at our final campus time, after evangelizing one night, we all sat down at Coffee Bean (aka 2nd home) talking, laughing, and actually genuinely bonding. I was able to talk to all of these people one-on-one as well, which helped me out sooo much regarding my attitude towards next year and heading back to campus. Driving home with emily and Charyse was soo great as well, and we spent most of the 6 hours talking about our school. Being on project and surrounded by people from Cru movements with 400+ people, who go sharing every week and do all kinds of cool things really opened our eyes to areas in which we can grow on our campus. We talked and prayed and screamed and planned for next year, and overall we are so encouraged to put some of our ideas into practice.
Looking back on this summer, and even just this post, I am amazed in the ways that God chose to use me. The people I talked to that were his divine appointments, the roommates I lived with that changed me forever in separate ways, the ambassador that I am now called to be at my school and to my Cru movement, and even the ways I am called to share my stories with my friends and family at home. Thank you allll for your continued prayer throughout the summer, and please continue praying for my campus, and all of the campuses represented on Project, and our hearts and attitudes as we make the difficult adjustment back to normal life! I'm headed back to Tucson in just three days for my sophomore year!
"But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face." 1 Thessalonians 2:17
ps.... on the last week, the ASU students tied maroon & gold balloons to all of the Wildcat's doors. Here is our revenge prank ;)